“A film set is a rolling ball of chaos and imminent failure,” said visiting filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean at the first Sundance ShortsLab: Honolulu, held at the museum’s Doris Duke Theatre March 21 and 22. His reality check on the nitty gritty of making a film during his session about going from short film to feature got a laugh out of the full house. Insider insight like that had aspiring and veteran filmmakers alike talking and Instagramming about how the milestone program inspired them.
The two-day event was free to the public, thanks to the sponsorship of Linda and Robert Nichols. The theater was filled with a who’s who of Hawai‘i film, such as UH Academy for Creative Media professors Anne Misawa (cinematographer of Margarita, with a Straw); Lisette Marie Flanary (director of One Voice); John Ching (producer of The Tempest); former Sundance NativeLab fellows Beau Bassett, Chris Kahunahana, Ciara Lacy, and Ty Sanga; and Jeannette Paulson Hereniko.
Recognizing the important role short films have in cinema, storytelling, and culture, the Sundance Institute holds about five ShortsLabs across the country each year to help empower the next generation of artists. Filmmakers are invited to these seminars of Sundance-organized panel discussions to offer firsthand insight into the basics of developing their idea, making their film, and getting it seen by audiences.
Visiting from Sundance were Mike Plante, Sundance Institute’s Senior Short Film Programmer; Trevor Groth, Director of Programming for the Sundance Film Festival; and Bird Runningwater, Director of Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program, who already has strong ties in the Hawai‘i film community through Sundance’s NativeLabs. The invited filmmakers were MacLean and Janicza Bravo.
The day before ShortsLab started, the museum’s film curator Abbie Algar and theater manager Taylour Chang took the Sundance team to Wai‘anae High School to spend a few hours with the students of the famed Searider Productions. Even though it was spring break, the kids were at school for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
On a tour of the Searider facilities and classrooms, students showed off examples of their productions,, equipment, and their impressive collection of awards and accolades. “We’ve been to a lot of high schools around the country,” Groth told the students, “and we’ve never seen students as engaged as you are here.”
As a further measure of their engagement, John Allen III, Searider Productions advisor for video, revealed that the students had not gone home the previous evening, working through the night to prepare for the Student Television Network Convention in San Diego, where more than 3,000 students, teachers, and industry professionals meet to compete in the fields of journalism, filmmaking, and audio-visual storytelling.
After a brief lunch, the Sundance crew talked about their experience as filmmakers and festival programmers, and answered students’ questions about the industry.
MacLean—whose feature film On the Ice is set in his hometown of Barrow, Alaska—told students about why he got into filmmaking. “I’ve always been a fan of movies, but I felt they only told a specific story about a specific character. I loved them, but I felt none of them told my story,” he said, “I’m sure that here in Hawai‘i you all have had a similar experience. I got into filmmaking because I wanted to tell my story.”
As the tour came to a close, the team discussed the significance of adding minority, native, and indigenous voices to the film industry, explaining that films made from these perspectives are windows into different cultures and experiences. “If everybody had access to films from around the world, it would allow us to be more understanding, more empathetic towards each other,” said Groth.
The ShortsLab program was spearheaded by Hathaway Jakobsen, the museum’s chief advancement officer. Jakobsen came to the museum from Sundance, where she was director of individual giving. “Hawai‘i has so much talent and interesting stories to tell. I’ve seen how Sundance’s ShortsLab helps aspiring filmmakers get the jumpstart they need. It made sense to bring the program here.”
“With 220 attendees, that’s the best attendance we’ve ever had—New York and Los Angeles get 180,” Plante emailed the museum after he had returned to Los Angeles. “It’s such a great place with the theater, the staff, the promotion, the reception—it really did go as well as I could have imagined. Very professional but still fun. You show film as an art.”
Lesa Griffith contributed to this article.